KAZAN’s back with odd, funny, contemporary play at Park Place Theatre

kazan
Christian Murray, Kathryn MacLellan, Gil Anderson and Matthew Lumley in KAZAN CO-OP’s The Realistic Joneses, to May 19, Tues. to Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., at Park Place Theatre, Point Pleasant Park. Tickets at http://www.tickethalifax.com. (Janet MacLellan)

New York playwright Will Eno’s 90-minute play, The Realistic Joneses, is very funny and unsettling, weird but familiar, in a passionate, perceptive production  at Park Place Theatre in Halifax.

Trust KAZAN theatre – after its Waiting Room theatre has become a pile of rubble awaiting a high-rise  – to deliver the unexpected in this intimate, tense, current play with crisp performances and sharp, well-timed direction by Bryden MacDonald.

The people in The Realistic Joneses are ordinary and odd, looking for connection but masters at miscommunication, self-orientation and detachment.  Anyone fond of verbal gamesmanship will love this show.

This blindsiding fusion of American family drama and absurdist theatre opens on a beautiful summer evening in a mountainous landscape by a lake.

Jennifer and Bob Jones are enjoying the evening but not each other’s company when they are suddenly interrupted by a surprise visit from the young couple next door. John  and Pony, whose last name is coincidentally also Jones, have just moved in and brought over a bottle of wine, which says WINE on the label.

From the get-go, these couples talk in non-sequiturs and at cross-purposes. It turns out they do have one thing in common – but it only adds to their existential loneliness.

Jennifer and Bob, brilliantly realized by Kathryn MacLellan and Christian Murray, are comically familiar, long-marrieds.

Jennifer is an unhappy, under-appreciated caregiver. Bob plays the put-upon husband who won’t admit there is anything wrong with himself or the marriage. MacLellan gets at the pathos in Jennifer in a highly nuanced performance. Murray is wonderful in both the comedic and obtuse aspects of Bob.

John and Pony are the odder couple, drawn together by their love of television programs, but both flailing away unsuccessfully at life. Pony, in an intense, fully-charged performance by Gil Anderson, is unreasonably terrified of squirrels and reasonably worried John will abandon her.

John, fully animated as a somewhat crazed creature with a clipped speech-pattern by Matthew Lumley, is very unusual and the flashpoint in this play. A wordsmith who likes to undercut people, it’s hard to know if he is the wise fool or a sinister, sarcastic idiot savant.

The Realistic Joneses winds out on Victoria Marston’s pastoral set of birch trees and worn cottage house fronts with a cool etching of a mountain range that lights up. Also key to the design are costumes by Janet MacLellan, lighting which is very clear and clean by Alison Crosby, and sound design by Donny Walls.

It’s great to see KAZAN CO-OP,  founded in 2011 by artistic director Kathryn MacLellan, who partners with her sister Janet, with help from sister Heather, back in action. Bryden MacDonald is back home after finishing a Master of Theatre Studies in Guelph.

This is the first production at Shakespeare by the Sea’s Park Place Theatre, newly renovated after a fire. “We’re so happy KAZAN is kicking off our new space. We really hope it will be a vital new home to work by the Halifax theatre community – we have 80 seats, climate control and, of course, lots of free parking,” Elizabeth Murphy, co-artistic director of Shakespeare by the Sea, says in a press release.

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